This is Part 1 of a series of stories of mums with “broken brains”.
Anyone who knew me in 2009 knows of my altercation with a 3mm aneurysm in my frontal lobe (aka Hurricane Annie). It decided to shit itself all through my subarachnoid space one sultry February day whilst shopping at Bunnings. I always thought Bunnings’ range was extensive, but never realised it could literally blow your brain. Lesson learnt.
The ambos carted me off to the Royal Melbourne Hospital where they suspected I had either meningitis or a really fucking bad migraine. I have an alarmingly good memory of the time before they got me to Hospital – the sensation of knowing I was about to pass out, coming to on a Bunnings pallet with a circle of concerned patrons looking down at me (and the look of disappointment when they realised I was not on the cut-price bin), being wheeled down the aisles to the loading dock to wait for the ambulance, the intense neck pain and stiffness, me puking in a bucket whilst barking instructions on how to get someone, ANYONE, to collect my daughter from creche.
The memory of the first couple of days at the hospital, not so much. I had a craniotomy 18 hours after I got to Emergency (my neuro did a most excellent number on my scalp wound – you can’t see the scar beneath the hairline), and apparently as I was being wheeled to theatre I said to Husband, “See you on the other side. Or not.” I have no memory of any of this, so truly, Husband could have told me anything, just for shits and giggles, and I would have believed him.
I spent 12 days in the High Dependency Unit. 12 of the weirdest, and most painful, days of my life.
It took about 3 months of pain before the fog cleared. I watched my 3 year old daughter stay very close to me in that time and every single day I thank fuck I survived to see her grow into a beautiful, saucer-eyed beacon of joy. Of course I saw it before the aneurysm, but every morning, she delivered her unique brand of comedy to me, in the way that only someone purely innocent can. I never thought I would be able to have another baby.
About 10 months later, Husband and I talked about having another child, and I was a teensy bit terrified (read, shitting my pants in a most terrible way). I had pretty much talked myself out of it. Could I even physically carry and deliver another baby? What if I had another aneurysm? What if the one I had, although clipped, re-bled? I was so thoroughly grateful to have one child I didn’t want to risk dying in the pursuit of another.
We went to see a high-risk obstetrician who said, “Should be fine. Recommend a C-section at 36 weeks, though.” Turned to my neurosurgeon who said, “Should be fine. Aneurysm’s clipped. Off you trot.” All other accounts about having a baby after a burst aneurysm, though (acquired from the tome of intellectual infallibility that is Google), warned “Nooooooo. No bebbies! And if you do get a bebby, all hail Caesar!” Or something like that. Google is terribly cryptic.
Certainly, there is a trend in the U.S to prescribe C-sections for aneurysm survivors. I don’t know if this is a litigation issue or a genuine medical mandate for U.S practitioners, but I didn’t come up against this view at all, with the exception of the first obstetrician. The OBs at the Mercy Hospital were pretty adamant that I should give birth naturally with a ventouse, or as natural as a 9 pound porker being sucked out of your pootang by a plunger gets. The anaesthetist (oh fucking word, as hard to write as it is to say) ordered an early epidural, though, to bring down my blood pressure during delivery.
The frustrating thing is that there is so little information out there for women in my situation. Relatively speaking, few people (roughly 40%) survive a burst aneurysm at all, let alone go on to have a baby after a haemorrhage. That’s not a lot. There’s very little in actual medical literature (not Google, ahem) that lay out the exact risks of bearing a child after such an event. There are as many answers are there are survivors. Whether you have an aneurysm surgically clipped (more invasive, but also more permanent) or an endovascular coil (less intrusive, but more likely to re-bleed), the size and location of the aneurysm, whether high blood pressure caused the aneurysm to blow in the first place, how many risk factors you have, these are all variables that might guide advice around the safety of getting up the duff but there are NO clear answers. No-one can tell you for sure that it will be safe.
My neurosurgeon had no insight into what caused my aneurysm to blow. The annie itself was reasonably small, anything less than 5mm is very unlikely to burst; I have no family history of them, my blood pressure is low; I’m not a smoker; I’m not sure if being a potty-mouth is a risk factor. It was a freak of nature. Much like Miranda Kerr.
What I did realise though, is that there are NO clear answers. There are no clear answers for anything in life. You cannot ask yourself at the beginning of the day “Will I get hit by a car this afternoon” and know the answer. And you cannot live your life breathing through an iron lung of fear.
So I did get up the duff. I had an uneventful pregnancy. A 2 hour labour. There was no time for my “early epidural”. If I hadn’t trotted in to the Mercy when I did, Inky would have been born in the car (hey, what’s a bit of vernix on the upholstery between friends?). She probably would have died as she had inhaled meconium, had the cord wrapped around her neck and had to be revived at birth. Before she was born, no-one could tell us for sure that she would be safe during delivery – I had no idea there was even a problem in there. We were lucky that she lived. I was lucky that I lived. At the end of the day, it is all you can count on when there are no answers.
Part 2 next Thursday – Rebecca tells her amazing story of discovering an angioma when she was pregnant.